Jan 16, 2013, 12:20 PM EDT
Every day until the season starts we’ll explore an intriguing storyline for the upcoming year.
Last April, Florida’s gain was Toronto’s pain.
When the Panthers clinched a playoff spot on Apr. 5, they snapped the NHL’s longest postseason drought — 12 years — and passed that depressing mantle onto the Leafs.
It’s been seven years since the Leafs last made the playoffs. The last time they did it, in 2003-04, the roster included the likes of Mats Sundin, Joe Nieuwendyk, Ron Francis, Ed Belfour and Brian Leetch.
All five of those guys are now in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
So yeah, long time.
For one of the league’s most storied franchises — one recently fired GM Brian Burke called the “crown jewel” and “Vatican” of the NHL — that stretch of futility is unacceptable.
Which brings us to the question at hand:
Will the futility end this season?
If the early parts of training camp were any indication, there’s not a lot of optimism.
Toronto began the campaign in the most dysfunctional way imaginable — by firing Burke, the club’s outspoken architect.
His dismissal went down almost exactly as many figured it would, with a hailstorm of controversy, sound bites and unanswered questions as to why owners decided to turf the GM eight days prior to the start of a condensed regular season.
That hasn’t been the only distraction in Leaf land, either.
The goaltending situation — the bane of Burke’s four-year existence — is as convoluted as ever. Talks of an impending Roberto Luongo acquisition continue to swirl and, should that trade never come to fruition, there’s debate over which in-house candidate would be No. 1.
Former No. 1 James Reimer should be the starter by default, but he hasn’t played a competitive game since March 2011. He’s also looked shaky in camp and could be surpassed by Ben Scrivens, who has been playing frequently in the AHL and, according to CBC’s Glen Healy, looks like a confident goalie.
“Just looking at Scrivens’s body language, he seems to have a lot of swagger,” said Healy. “The biggest thing for goaltenders is that six inches between your ears — that belief that you can accomplish what you want to accomplish. That you can do it. That you’ve got confidence.
“His emergence into [the NHL] game could not be better timed, with the lockout ending and a lot of other players not playing.”
As for other personnel, the Leafs didn’t upgrade much from a roster that finished 13th in the Eastern Conference a year ago.
James van Riemsdyk came aboard (at the expense of losing Luke Schenn) and checking center Jay McClement was signed in free agency. Morgan Rielly, the fifth overall pick at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, could challenge for a roster spot, but is only 18 years old.
Which means Toronto might be seeking improvement from within.
To that end, the Leafs should have some optimism. One of the biggest disappointments from last year was Nikolai Kulemin, who saw his goal production decrease from 30 in 2010-11 to seven in 2011-12.
The 30-year-old Russian was active during the lockout, playing with Magnitogorsk of the KHL, racking up 38 points in 36 games.
But really, improvement has to come across the board. The only way the Leafs are going to make the playoffs is if everything about the team gets better, something head coach Randy Carlyle acknowledges.
“I’ve left the message with the players in departing last year that we were not competitive enough in all three zones,” Carlyle explained. “We have to be prepared to go — if you want to call it war in some situations, so be it — we want to be able to compete night in, night out, for every puck, every faceoff.
“That’s the message that’s been delivered. That’s the type of style we’re expected to play.”
For all the PHT Pressing Questions, click here.
Jul 4, 2015, 11:20 PM EDT
Vancouver started its development camp this weekend.
Jul 4, 2015, 10:10 PM EDT
His offensive totals were down, but was regularly used on penalty kill.
Jul 4, 2015, 8:40 PM EDT
Spent most of the 2014-15 season in the OHL.
Jul 4, 2015, 7:10 PM EDT
They had agreed to terms last weekend.
Jul 4, 2015, 5:40 PM EDT
Played 37 games with Edmonton last season before getting sent back to the WHL.
Jul 4, 2015, 4:10 PM EDT
He signed with Pittsburgh on Wednesday.
Jul 4, 2015, 2:57 PM EDT
Both received two-way deals.
Jul 4, 2015, 2:01 PM EDT
Will he make the 2015-16 Flyers?
Jul 4, 2015, 12:48 PM EDT
Washington’s AHL tandem has more NHL playing experience than Holtby and Grubauer.
Jul 4, 2015, 11:30 AM EDT
He usually gets at least one stint in the NHL per season.
Jul 4, 2015, 10:18 AM EDT
The two sides reportedly aren’t close to an agreement.
Jul 4, 2015, 9:09 AM EDT
What role he has could depend on the Kings and league’s decision regarding Slava Voynov.
Jul 3, 2015, 11:00 PM EDT
Scored 13 goals in 54 games last season.
Jul 3, 2015, 10:00 PM EDT
He was sentenced in September, 2013.
Jul 3, 2015, 9:00 PM EDT
Spent the last three seasons in the KHL.
Jul 3, 2015, 7:44 PM EDT
Buffalo also signed Cal O’Reilly, who played last season with the AHL Utica Comets.
Jul 3, 2015, 6:43 PM EDT
He signed a six-year, $36 million deal with Columbus.
Jul 3, 2015, 5:44 PM EDT
“Joel is a quality veteran player who can score but also plays an extremely hard-nosed brand of hockey.”
Jul 3, 2015, 5:00 PM EDT
Could make things interesting next season.
Jul 3, 2015, 4:00 PM EDT
Brings a wealth of success, experience at AHL, collegiate levels.
- Report: Plotnikov paid $500K to get out of KHL contract 8
- Philadelphia signs ’15 first rounder Provorov 8
- Brandon Saad brings championship experience to Blue Jackets 20
- Sharks sign Joel Ward to three-year deal 21
- Sabres lock up O’Reilly through 2022-23 71
- Locked in: Columbus signs Saad to six-year, $36M deal 27
- Oilers sign McDavid to entry-level contract 29
- ‘Hawks would like to re-sign Oduya, but still working through ‘financial hurdles’ 17
- Trade: Caps acquire Oshie from Blues for Brouwer, Copley and draft pick 73
- Voynov takes plea, gets 90 days in jail plus probation 66
- Blockbuster: Kessel traded to the Penguins (131)
- Trade: Flyers send Rinaldo to Bruins for 2017 third-rounder (105)
- Trade: Jackets land Saad; Anisimov and Dano headed to Chicago (93)
- Bypassing a buyout? Kings terminate Richards’ contract for ‘material breach’ (90)
- Trade: Caps acquire Oshie from Blues for Brouwer, Copley and draft pick (73)